Wednesday, 13 February 2013

By-Elections Preview: 14 February 2013

14th February sees four by-elections, all caused by deaths of councillors.  There is an SNP defence in Lanarkshire which Kris will cover on the Scottish Elections blog.  In England there are three polls this week which could all have some potential for shock: the Liberal Democrats will try to hold a by-election in a historic Lincolnshire town while the Tories and Labour both have seats to defend in rather more modern parts of the West Midlands.


West Lindsey District Council, Lincolnshire; caused by the death of Liberal Democrat councillor Mel Starkey at the age of 61.  A postman by profession, Starkey had served on West Lindsey District Council since 1987.

Heapham Road water tower
  © Copyright Jonathan Billinger and licensed for
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Fifteen miles north-west of Lincoln, Gainsborough has a claim to being Britain's most inland port; located on the navigable River Trent, it is more than 55 miles from the North Sea by river.  The Aegir tidal wave ends here, while road and railway bridges over the Trent block major shipping past this point.  There is still a wharf here, mainly handling imported wood.  Gainsborough is a town with an old history; one of the capital cities of Mercia during the Heptarchy, Gainsborough was the place where the Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard defeated Ethelred the Unready in 1013 and established Danish rule over England.  Sweyn took up office in Gainsborough and the town could have become capital of England, but Sweyn was dead within weeks and his son Canute (whose famous demonstration against the incoming tide allegedly took place here) moved on.

After that the town settled down into the life of an agricultural market town with some industry; notable local employers included the boilermakers Marshall, Sons & Co and the packaging machine manufacturers Rose Brothers, who diversified into lots of other things and whose name survives in Cadbury's Roses chocolates.  Today Eminox makes exhaust systems for buses and commercial vehicles in the town.

One of three wards covering the town, Gainsborough East is a residential and industrial area to the south-east of the town, straddling the town's bypass Thorndike Way.  It is a strong Liberal Democrat ward, with the Lib Dems winning every election from 2002 to 2010 mostly by large majorities over the Conservatives; Labour stood in the ward only rarely during this period but did take second place on each occasion they were on the ballot paper.  West Lindsey moved away from its thirds electoral cycle to whole-council elections in 2011, at which Labour stood one candidate who gained one of the ward's three seats from the Lib Dems, Starkey topping the poll.

With this ward now firmly in Labour's sights the by-election campaign will be very interesting.  Defending for the Lib Dems is Mark Binns, a St John's Ambulance volunteer and one of the ward's town councillors, who fought Gainsborough North at the last district council election.  Labour are hoping to elect Mick Devine, an accounts clerk and Unite member.  The two remaining candidates both live outside the town. Sturton-by-Stow resident Richard Butroid, an electrician in the health and safety sector who has represented Lincolnshire at clay pigeon shooting, is the Conservative candidate, and Howard Thompson, from Claxby near Market Rasen, is having another go for UKIP after contesting district and county council by-elections elsewhere in the district last September; he is described as a former RAF police squadron leader who runs his own company providing data information security to local companies.

Parliamentary constituency: Gainsborough
Lincolnshire county council division: Gainsborough Hill
ONS Travel to Work Area: Lincoln

Mark Binns (LD)
Richard Butroid (C)
Mick Devine (Lab)
Howard Thompson (UKIP)

May 2011 result LD 591/583/358 Lab 422 C 322/227/196
May 2010 result LD 1019 Lab 606 C 597 UKIP 224
May 2008 result LD 635 C 255 UKIP 140
May 2007 result LD 716 C 303
May 2006 result LD 760 C 375
June 2004 result LD 774 Lab 551 C 276
May 2003 result LD 582 C 209
May 2002 result LD 424 Lab 217 C 106


South Staffordshire District Council; caused by the death of a Conservative county and district councillor David Billson at the age of 69.  The deputy leader of the district council and district cabinet member for strategic services, he had served on South Staffordshire District Council since 2003 and was approaching the end of his first term on Staffordshire County Council.  In earlier life Billson had been a policeman, and in 1963 became middleweight boxing champion of Staffordshire County Police.  With the next Staffordshire County Council elections less than three months away, this by-election is for his district council seat only.

Perton Shopping Centre
  © Copyright Gordon Griffiths and licensed for
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Even to someone like your columnist, Perton is not one of those names that's famous or interesting enough to immediately pinpoint it in the country, which is a shame as this Perton, a western suburb of Wolverhampton, has a rather interesting history.  There was effectively nothing here but fields until the second world war, when an airfield was constructed by the RAF.  RAF Perton was intended as a fighter station but ended up being used as a relief aerodrome with pilots from other airfields - including the Princess Irene brigade of the exiled Dutch army - being trained here.  After the war the barracks became a camp for eastern European refugees before being abandoned.  In 1972 the site was sold to a private developer who over the next decade built an enormous housing estate here.  The 2011 census found the entire parish, of which this ward is the eastern fifth, to have a population of 10,686.  One legacy of the village's development as a private housing estate is that, despite this ward being immediately outside the Wolverhampton city limits, there is no direct road connection to the city.

In the three elections since 2003 Perton East has always elected David Billson for the Conservatives but has never been a safe ward, with Billson coming under strong pressure from independent candidates each time; at his final re-election in 2011 he had a majority of just 40 votes after a re-count (432 to 402).

This by-election is another Conservative/Independent duel.  The Tory candidate is Nigel Caine, a mobile disco operator and one of the two remaining Perton parish councillors for this ward, who is opposed by the Independent candidate from 2011, Anthony Bourke, a parish councillor for Lakeside ward which covers the centre of the village.

Parliamentary constituency: South Staffordshire
Staffordshire county council division: Perton
ONS Travel to Work Area: Wolverhampton

Anthony Bourke (Ind)
Nigel Caine (C)

May 2011 result C 432 Ind 402
May 2007 result C 367 Ind 293 LD 33
May 2003 result C 260 Ind 237


Telford and Wrekin Council, Shropshire; caused by the death of Labour councillor Brian Duce at the age of 76.  The chairman of Great Dawley Parish Council, Duce had worked on the construction of Telford New Town before becoming a school governor and a founder member of the local Neighbourhood Watch.  He had served on Telford and Wrekin Council since 2011.

Dawley High St
  © Copyright Row17 and licensed for
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Like Perton, Dawley is an area in the West Midlands generally developed since the 1970s.  Unlike Perton, Dawley is both rather more well-known and has a history before World War Two, having been a mining town for coal and ironstone for centuries; it is immediately to the north of Coalbrookdale, the cradle of the Industrial Revolution. In 1963 Dawley was designated as a New Town encompassing Coalbrookdale, Wellington and Oakengates, and development started; however, in 1968 the New Town was renamed Telford, after the civil engineer Thomas Telford, and Dawley's major claim to fame was lost.  The mining and industrial areas of this ward were heavily landscaped and built on.  The modern Dawley Magna ward runs from central Dawley (part of Great Dawley parish) along the old road to Bridgnorth into the Little Dawley and Aqueduct areas (part of Dawley Hamlets parish).

As befits the ward's industrial heritage, it currently has three Labour councillors, but the area's voting patterns over the last decade have been quite volatile; Labour lost a by-election in the ward in December 2006 to the localist Telford and Wrekin Peoples' Association, who confirmed the by-election gain at the 2007 elections and gained the other two seats in the ward for good measure, Labour falling into third place behind the Conservatives.  Labour got the ward's three seats back in 2011, the Peoples' Association falling to third place but with their leading candidate just 84 votes short of the third Labour candidate (who had a majority of 44 votes over a single Tory).

Labour's candidate to hold the by-election is another Great Dawley parish councillor, former charity shop manager Jane Pinter who lives in Little Dawley.  The Conservatives have re-selected their 2011 candidate Alan Scott, a Dawley Hamlets parish councillor who lives in Little Dawley and describes himself as deeply involved in the community.  This time there is no Peoples' Assocation candidate.  An Aqueduct resident, Angela Jordan, is standing as an independent, while UKIP, who have recently had a Great Dawley parish councillor defect to them, have nominated 25-year-old youth worker Ryan Laing.

Parliamentary constituency: Telford
ONS Travel to Work Area: Telford and Bridgnorth

May 2011 result Lab 1315/1243/961 C 917 Telford and Wrekin Peoples' Assoc 877/785/505
May 2007 result Telford and Wrekin Peoples' Assoc 1220/1033/961 C 648/535/464 Lab 574/526/483
Dec 2006 by-election Telford and Wrekin Peoples' Assoc 649 Lab 476 C 446
May 2003 result Lab 1522/1488/1268 C 878/844 Socialist Alliance 359/305

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